Clause 56 - statistics

Railways and Transport Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 25th February 2003.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I have three questions. The first is question A, so we can get that out of the way. The second question relates to subsection (2), which requires information about offences committed, offenders and criminal proceedings. Could the Minister or the Under-Secretary—whoever is replying—assure me that the concerns that I have already expressed about the crucial need to gather information on the location of offences will be borne in mind when making requests to the British Transport police for the collection of that information?

Will the Under-Secretary clarify the meaning of the phrase ''offences committed'', because there are significant problems with some of the current statistics? I used the examples of vandalism and trespass earlier. In 2001–02, the British Transport police reported approximately 30,000 offences of vandalism and trespass. Roughly speaking, half of those were vandalism and half were trespass. However, all the other statistical evidence shows—from the number of objects left on railway lines, the number of objects thrown at trains, and from independent research that asked schoolchildren whether they had been involved in such acts—that significantly more offences were committed than were reported by the British Transport police.

Will the Minister assure me that the information will be gathered and published in the wider context of data that has been collected by bodies other than the British Transport police? Will the Minister also take the opportunity to comment on the disturbing statistic that shows that only a small number of those recorded crimes of vandalism and trespass lead to prosecutions? For example, in the last year for which we have figures, there were 15,075 recorded offences of vandalism, although we know there were far more, but there were only 2,200 charges and summonses. There were 15,395 offences of trespass, even though we know that significantly more took place, yet there were only 903 summonses, not all of which led to convictions. There is clearly a need to examine why so few of those recorded offences led to summonses to court.

My third point relates to subsection (4). I imply nothing, but simply say that two things are important. When the Secretary of State receives the report from the chief constable, the information should be made public as quickly as possible. Can the Minister give us a clear assurance that there will be a speedy publication of that information? Can we also be assured that if the figures are to be summarised, as subsection (4) allows, the summary will be approved by the chief constable so that there can be no dubiety about the selection of the data? The Minister's smile shows why I said at the beginning that I was not implying anything.

Simply for the avoidance of doubt, the chief constable should be prepared to sign up to the summary that is being made public and on which many people outside the British Transport police may

base their actions. I am thinking of the train operating companies and Network Rail, which have specific duties in relation to some of the crimes that take place on the railways. They will clearly need to know that they can rely on the statistics. The hon. Member for Vale of York referred to her local parish council. It may wish to base some of its work on these statistics. It should therefore be information in which people have total confidence.

I have three basic questions. The first is question A. The second relates to subsection (2), about offences committed, the gathering of wider data and an assurance that we will look at the issue of the relationship between offences committed and the number of prosecution. The third question relates to subsection (4) and whether we will get quick publication and whether the summary will be one on which we can all rely.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

The hon. Member for Bath made some interesting remarks. Like other hon. Members, I saw those excellent documentaries about the British Transport police. I was concerned about the offences that were being committed. After expensive chases, sometimes involving helicopters and police cars, a small number of young men were rounded up, given a friendly talking to and then allowed to go away. Is that recorded and is the action taken effective?

I do not assume that we should automatically come down heavily on trivial offences, but can my hon. Friend the Minister assure us that all these issues are considered carefully by the British Transport police and that the legislation provides for them to take effective action and to ensure that the statistics are properly recorded? This kind of behaviour goes on all the time. We want effective measures to be taken to reduce the level of crime on our railways.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport) 11:15 am, 25th February 2003

Working backwards, I see that under clause 56(4) the information received under the clause, or a summary of it, shall be laid before Parliament Will the Minister tell us whether the British Transport police ''Statistical Bulletin 2001–02'', which has been much vaunted this morning, is available for Committee members and where it is available? We are told that the intention is to make it available under the Bill, so presumably it is available under existing provisions.

The hon. Member for Bath keeps banging on about—please pardon that expression—trespass. [Interruption.] I say that with the highest affection for the hon. Gentleman. I am happy to hold on to the Vale of York, and he is welcome to his constituency, at least until the next election. My understanding is that the offence of trespass does not pertain to Scottish law: the offence of trespass does not exist in Scotland. That point was put most vigorously to the Government in the responses from the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland. They expressed the specific concern that a British Transport police constable attested in England and Wales would have jurisdiction in Scotland without the appropriate training or

knowledge of Scottish law. Is that reflected in the published statistics by noting the offences committed in England and Wales that are not deemed to be offences under Scottish law? Similarly, new offences may be created under Scots law—in hunting for example, although I am not sure whether the British Transport police would come across that—so do the statistics reflect that too?

There is a serious omission in subsection (2). Why is there no separate provision to make information available about victims? For the purposes of the Bill and all those who represent the victims of crime, it is important to collate evidence about victims annually so that comparisons can be formed. We have spoken at length during our debates on part 3 about the increasing vulnerability of women who use remote railway stations and lines at night and other times of the day when not many people are about, and I am sure that all Committee members received compelling evidence of the concerns of organisations such as the Royal National Institute of the Blind. I cannot understand why a separate category for victims is not justified, and it is remiss of the Government not to include that. Will they include such a category in the future? For several crimes against the person, particularly rape and sexual assaults, statistical evidence shows that the incidence of such offences is higher on trains or in railway stations than elsewhere.

Will the nature of the statistics requested by the Secretary of State under the clause allow hon. Members, railway users, train operating companies and the British Transport police to show whether the level of reported offences is up or down in any given reporting period, so that comparisons can be drawn between the different periods? From the point of view of policing, I would have thought that that was important. I have mentioned my concern that the offences may be recognised in England and Wales, but not in Scotland.

I wonder whether the statistics on offenders indicate an age breakdown or gender profile, such as a tendency for women to commit fewer offences because they do not watch as many football matches or are less violent, and whether there are repeat offenders on trains or railway facilities.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am interested in what my hon. Friend is saying and in the statistics that relate to the clause. Does she believe that subsection (2) would include successful prosecutions and the statistics to which she referred? Would they come under criminal proceedings and length of sentence?

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

That is my next point. May I say what a pleasure it is to welcome back my hon. Friend after his worthwhile exercise of being nice to people living in other parts of Europe?

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

Will the hon. Lady explain why it was worth while?

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I do not want to be ruled out of order. My hon. Friend's absence from the Committee was obviously not worth while, but I am sure that he will prepare a report to share with us that will explain why his visit was worth while. It is always worth while sidling up to our neighbours.

I speak as someone who did not develop an extensive criminal practice, but it is important to differentiate between offences committed and offences successfully prosecuted, as the hon. Member for Bath said. Scotland has always had the procurator fiscal service, which is responsible for bringing cases to court. The Minister might or might not find my point interesting, but I believe that there has been a sea change in England and Wales since the creation of the Crown Prosecution Service. Will he confirm that?

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

My hon. Friend raises an interesting question, which I am not sure she will be able to answer. Presumably, if an offence is committed on a train travelling between England and Scotland, at what point does that offence come under Scottish law and at what point does it come under English law? Must the time that the offence was committed and the location of the train at that time be ascertained?

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I shall momentarily return to the point to which I hope the Minister will respond. The problem of moving jurisdiction is vexing in the context of the Bill. Out of respect for the hon. Member for Bath and his passion for the crime of trespass, I must say that it would be fruitless for an English police officer of the British Transport police to apprehend someone for committing a crime such as trespass in Scotland, where it is not recognised. I hope that the Minister heard the scenario that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge described, and that he will consider it.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

If the hon. Gentleman will let me finish my point, this is a cause of real concern. Do the current statistics reflect the difference between the number of offences committed and the number of offences that are successfully prosecuted? Is it envisaged that current practices will be continued? When the Minister finishes speaking to the clause, will he tell the Committee what changes, if any, have been made by the creation of the CPS?

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.